Game 5 was anything but pretty. The first half was defined by Kevin Durant’s triumphant return, and then Kevin Durant’s disastrous re-injury. The second half was defined by one transcendent three-minute stretch from Kawhi Leonard, and then three minutes of ridiculous, frantic, slapstick mutual failure that somehow ended with the Golden State Warriors staying alive and pushing the series back to Oakland with a 106–105 win. Which, if nothing else, gave the world this fine moment:
The Warriors took the early lead behind 11 first-quarter points from Durant, who looked great shooting the ball and switching on defense, even if his movement was a little bit stiff and tentative. The 34 points Golden State scored in the frame tied for the most they’ve scored in any quarter in this series, and the most since the second quarter of Game 2, their only other win. Durant’s re-injury presented a clear advantage for the Raptors, but it took them a surprisingly long time to seize that advantage, playing the Warriors to a draw on the scoreboard across both the second and third quarters. Partly this had to do with Kawhi having his first real dud of a performance of the series—he finished with 26 points, but needed 24 shots to get there, and turned the ball over an uncharacteristic five times, four of which were deadly live ball turnovers.
But Kawhi seemed to smell blood in the water at about the 5:45 mark of the fourth quarter, with the Warriors clinging to a four-point lead and looking ragged and worn-out. Leonard got away with both a travel and a backcourt violation on an assist to Norman Powell to cut the lead to two points, and then ripped off a personal 10–2 run to put the Raptors up six, 103–97. The Toronto crowd was going insane; the Warriors looked terribly flustered; Kawhi was hulking up into a man-eating monster. That was when Raptors head coach Nick Nurse made the extremely curious decision to call a timeout, just as his team was squeezing the life out of the defending champs. It should not shock you to learn that this sliver of generously gifted space to regather their composure was all the Warriors needed to rip off a 9–0 run and retake the lead:
That video really fails to capture the stupidity of the last couple minutes of the game. The Raptors scored just two total points after Nurse’s ill-timed timeout, on a Kyle Lowry layup that was goaltended by DeMarcus Cousins. They had as many backcourt violations as buckets, and twice as many airballs. But they weren’t alone on the blooper reel: Cousins matched his defensive goaltending violation with an offensive goaltending violation, on a putback of a bricked three-pointer; Steph Curry and Draymond Green collaborated on a lazy and careless and hideously timed backcourt violation; and Cousins wasted Golden State’s final possession with a moving screen offensive foul, giving Toronto ample time to run a coherent final play, down a point.
The Raptors got the ball back with 15.7 seconds on the clock. Naturally they put the ball in the hands of Leonard, but with Klay Thompson glued to him, Kawhi was forced to give the ball up to Fred VanVleet, who was not positioned to shoot. VanVleet pitched it to Lowry in the corner, which would’ve been a great final shot, except that Draymond Green made a phenomenal play to leap out from fronting Marc Gasol and get a finger on Lowry’s shot.
With the refs stopping the game for multiple replay reviews, plus the overall clumsiness and lack of shot-making of the final few minutes, this was not a game that anyone will remember for its aesthetics. But the Warriors battled through a hell of an obstacle to grab a clutch win, and with the series tilting back to Oakland, they’ve got more than a heartbeat. If any group in basketball knows about the vulnerability of a team holding a 3–1 series lead, it’s the remaining core of these Golden State Warriors.